Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Minnesota emerged as the most intriguing team story of the year, and their failure to reach the World Series does not diminish their accomplishment in any way. A closer division race from the White Sox or Indians would have earned the Twins more attention prior to the playoffs, but their consistency, despite an incorrectly assembled lineup and perpetually hurting starting staff, deserved recognition. Now they need to determine how to filter a deep and talented group of prospects to the majors while also retaining their underdog spirit and complying with an ownership mandate to maintain the current payroll. Exercising the options on Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, Denny Hocking, and perhaps even Tom Prince while letting Mike Jackson and Bob Wells leave at least enables them to retain all vital contributors. Dealing with the arbitration cases of Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, David Ortiz, and Doug Mientkiewicz will take more finesse.
Keeping Hunter is essential since he's the best offensive and defensive player on the team, plus he wants to sign a long-term contract now; Minnesota must accommodate his request immediately, since he'll grow more reluctant to stay once his teammates start moving to other franchises. The biggest problem in the minor league system is the lack of middle infield prospects, so much of their future upside depends on the progress of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas, although both should stay for now given their relative youth. Corey Koskie will remain the starting third baseman following Michael Cuddyer's move to right field.
Minnesota could trade Jones, Ortiz, Mientkiewicz, and A.J. Pierzynski, while potentially improving each position with inexpensive younger players with more upside. However the latter two are essential to the team identity, so I'd like to see both sign multi-year deals. Unfortunately, keeping Jones and Ortiz makes little sense given their playoff failures and general lack of offensive progress, and both would fetch one or two solid prospects from teams respectively desperate for a young outfielder or power potential. Some combination of Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Mike Restovich, Mike Ryan, Matt LeCroy, and Todd Sears would actually improve the Twins' offense, and Hunter possesses enough range to counter any defensive lapses by the youthful outfielders. Mohr also looks like trade bait as Restovich should start in left, Kielty can slide into the 4th outfielder role, LeCroy and Sears can platoon at DH, and Ryan can return to AAA for another year. Triple-A catcher Javier Valentin also should fetch a decent prize on the trade market, and if there's little interest in him, simply don't exercise the option on Prince, instead installing Valentin as the back-up.
They must open up a rotation spot for Johan Santana, and Kyle Lohse, as their only starter who remained healthy all season, also should remain starting, forcing a trade of either Radke, Milton, Mays, or Rick Reed. Moving Reed makes the most sense given his age, Radke's status as nominal club ace, Mays' reduced trade value following his injury-plagued season, and the desire for two lefty starters forces them to keep Milton. I suspect their rotation should improve next year, perhaps counteracting the likely decline in bullpen effectiveness.
With Santana moving into the rotation and Wells and Jackson departing, they should retain Guardado, Romero, and Hawkins as the late-inning corps, along with Tony Fiore for long relief. Among the several solid candidates for middle relief slots, Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour, Kevin Frederick, and Jack Cressend all deserve extended looks in the majors.
These solutions will not quiet the complaints regarding payroll dumping, but moving Reed, Wells, Jones, and Ortiz should create enough salary space for the existing raises due Koskie, Guzman, Radke, Mays, Milton, and the three late-inning relievers, as well as the new contracts for Hunter and Mientkiewicz. If necessary, I'd also deal Mientkiewicz before letting Hawkins leave, especially given the former player's fungible nature and the other talent already on the 40-man roster. Minnesota possesses a very promising core of young talent, along with the best catching prospect in baseball in Joe Mauer, and they easily should remain in playoff competition for the next 2-3 years even without a new owner, new stadium, or increased payroll.
Mike Cuddyer, 23, OF-R
Cuddyer enters 2003 as the Twins' right fielder after he started there for the majority of their playoff games. I'm slightly concerned about his immediate power potential after he compiled a 1.52 G-F in the majors in 2002, however his consistently excellent minor league slugging percentages indicate he'll hit a significant number of homers. His 3.92 #P/PA, combined with his acceptable minor league walk rate, demonstrates he possesses sufficient patience for the majors, and his power/speed upside makes him an excellent roto target. Cuddyer should compete all season for the AL Rookie of the Year since he's more prepared for the majors than any other top Twins' prospect.
Lew Ford, 26, OF-R
Ford led everyone in the minors by 12 runs, tied for second in hits with Lyle Overbay behind only Joe Thurston, and even finished third in total bases behind Thurston and Robb Quinlan. While we can attribute some of his stats to his advanced age, he developed significant offensive skills, including a .91 BB:K, .11 walk rate, and .90 contact rate, along with an 82% SB success rate and an impressive 62 extra-base hits. Ford's downside is a superb 4th outfielder similar to Alex Ochoa, but if he maintains this level of production over a full AAA season after his 193 at-bats in Edmonton this year, he'll merit a starting job in the majors. If Minnesota can't re-sign Torii Hunter to a long-term deal, Ford is his logical replacement in 2004, however the Twins also could trade Ford for a couple of prospects to boost system depth. Despite these questions about his eventual destination and likely playing time, Ford's an excellent minor league selection who could contribute significantly to a fantasy team if he's needed as an injury replacement.
Mike Restovich, 23, OF-R
With seven outfielders deserving major league jobs on their 40-man roster and Lew Ford likely joining that group this winter, Restovich might spend another few months in AAA. While I believe he's mostly ready for the majors and would benefit from an Opening Day start in left field, across from Cuddyer in right, he'd also increase his chances for immediate success by focusing on improving his poor .71 AAA contact rate. I expect he'll reach double-digit value on the basis of a strong second half, so he's an excellent pick in any league, however I'm slightly worried about his eventual playing time allotment in Minnesota. Hunter and Cuddyer rank an easy 1-2 in the outfield for their combination of offensive and defensive gifts, so Restovich will need to contribute significant power to keep his job from Kielty, Mohr, Mike Ryan, and Ford.
Ryan's stats indicate he's a slightly older and left-handed version of Mike Restovich, although he makes better contact and lacks speed. He probably deserved a look after compiling a .288/.353/.486 at Edmonton in 2001, but his current campaign places him among the most prepared power prospects in the game. Seventy-three extra-base hits remain impressive regardless of the benefits of his home park, and Ryan appears able to replace David Ortiz's production if necessary. However given the competition in the Metrodome, I suspect Minnesota will actively look to trade him to a power-deficient team before they need the 40-man slot for someone at a position with less depth.
Todd Sears, 26, 1B-L
If Minnesota trades Doug Mientkiewicz to free salary for Torii Hunter and pitching, Sears is prepared to start at first base. While repeating AAA this year, he developed notable power and showed an improving walk rate despite doubling his 2001 strikeout numbers. He's even a fine defender with natural endorsement opportunities. I don't see him earning more than $15 or so if he finds a regular role in the next year or two, but he could approach $20 if his doubles continue translating into homer increases.
Joe Dillon, 27, 3B-R
Minnesota selected him in the minor league Rule 5 draft after Kansas City showed little interest in his development, limiting his promotions despite good plate discipline and some power potential. The Twins also left him at AA this year aside from a dozen at-bats in Edmonton, and while he posted the second best OBP of his career, his decreased SLG limits his upside. Committing 19 errors in 84 games also won't impress many people, so while Dillon wouldn't hurt you if ever needed as an injury replacement, he'll need to post solid stats in an extended AAA appearance in the very near future if he wants more than a brief cup-of-coffee in the majors.
Justin Morneau, 21, 1B-L
Although he compiled relatively pedestrian numbers in his first full season at AA, he's still quite young and demonstrates exceptional power potential. Morneau is the eventual replacement for Doug Mientkiewicz at first base, and his solid batting average indicates that any development of his plate discipline should lead to truly eye-raising numbers. There's a slight possibility Minnesota could deal him due to their tremendous upper level depth at 1B/DH, but I believe Morneau will start for new affiliate AAA Rochester, and he should be ready for the majors no later than the 2004 All-Star break. Certainly look to draft him if he's somehow still available in your league.
Luis Rodriguez, 22, SS-S
While Rodriguez didn't match either his exceptional 1.95 BB:K or .18 walk rate from 2001 at A+ Fort Myers, he posted another set of impressive skills that indicate he's ready for AAA. His lack of power and speed keep him from receiving scouting accolades, but his downside places him with the best utility infielders in the game, and if he develops power, he could replace either Cristian Guzman or Luis Rivas by 2005. He's a poor draft pick since he lacks a position, although once he demonstrates he can maintain both a decent BA and good plate discipline in AAA, he'd make acceptable roster filler after his recall. Keep an eye on Rodriguez's progress, especially if you're invested in Guzman or Rivas.
Grant Balfour, 24, RH Reliever
With AAA ratios of 2.9 K:BB, 11.1 K/9, 7.6 H/9, and .4 HR/9, I'm baffled as to why Minnesota left him in the minors all year. Hopefully the expected departures of Mike Jackson and Bob Wells will place Balfour in the middle of competition for a bullpen spot. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and could even emerge as Minnesota's closer within the next couple of seasons. Assuming he breaks camp with the team, he's an excellent Dollar Days pick who could provide a similar return to J.C. Romero in 2002, however even with a significant number of strikeouts, I expect he'll plateau under $10 in his rookie season.
Kevin Frederick, 25, RH Reliever
I don't see why Frederick closed in Edmonton instead of Balfour considering the latter reached AAA first, owns a higher ceiling, and possesses a few innings of major league experience. Only Frederick's 2.2 K:BB and 7.7 K/9 even looked relatively similar to his fantastic AA numbers from 2002, so I'm again left wondering why he saw time in Minnesota and Balfour stayed in Canada, especially since both own 40-man roster slots. Frederick should continue developing into a solid middle reliever, but while he could succeed if he breaks camp with the team, he also might benefit from another couple of months in the minors.
Brent Hoard, 25, LH Starter
He's demonstrated dominance and command at both the Twins' A-ball teams over the past three years, and now Hoard's ready for AAA after a solid campaign with AA New Britain. A 2.4 K:BB may be his best skill, but there's little wrong with his 7.0 K/9, 8.6 H/9, and .6 HR/9. I'm not sure if he'll fit in the Twins' rotation considering their overall pitching depth, so if they can't find room for him on the 40-man roster, he looks like a great Rule 5 pick. Hoard should emerge as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter if he joins a team with weaker starting depth, although he could develop into a great reliever if he remains with Minnesota.
Adam Johnson, 23, RH Starter
Minnesota selected him as the second overall pick in 2000 and immediately sent him to A+ Fort Myers, where Johnson dominated with a 92:20 K:BB in 69 IP over 12 GS. He maintained his effectiveness while beginning 2001 at AA New Britain with a 110:39 K:BB in 113 IP over 18 GS. Then the Twins stupidly ruined his steady development by promoting him to the majors for 25 innings, and he self-destructed by posting an 8.28 ERA on 17:13 K:BB in 25 innings. Although he regained his skills after heading to AAA for the last 4 starts of the year, he seemed somewhat lost following last season. After hearing of his demotion with the last of the Minnesota's spring cuts, he reportedly physically shredded his assignment papers, obviously feeling he deserved to break camp with the team. However I don't blame Johnson for his outburst, since while he still needs more development time, the Twins incorrectly bloated his ego by rushing him; they even burned a 40-man spot on him a year earlier than necessary. Considering the solid pitching depth in the organization, a trade might be the best solution, especially if the Twins could package him with a starting middle infielder for a significant offensive upgrade. Johnson remains an excellent prospect with the potential to emerge as a solid starter or closer, but the entire situation makes him a risky fantasy selection at this time.
Michael Nakamura, 26, RH Reliever
Nakamura and Grant Balfour displayed excellent skills at AAA and truly merited a promotion. Both demonstrated superb command and dominance, and if Minnesota doesn't open a 40-man spot for Nakamura, he seems like an automatic Rule 5 pick, perhaps even the first selection overall. While I don't know if he'll develop into a closer, he's ready to help in middle relief now, and the Twins should use him to inexpensively fill one of their bullpen roles for the next few years. Like Balfour, he's worth a Dollar Days selection on the strength of his skills and strikeout potential.
Jeremy Palki, 26, RH Reliever
The combination of an incredible offense and deep pitching staff unsurprisingly allowed Edmonton to win the PCL title. Palki's simply another of Minnesota's surprisingly dominant minor league relievers who might be available to a smart team in the off-season. The only two 40-man slots that look available are the ones currently filled by Mike Jackson and Bob Wells, and Justin Morneau and Lew Ford will take those. Minnesota will need to dump either a quality pitcher or big league position player to open room for even one reliever between Michael Nakamura and Palki, leaving Palki either exposed to the Rule 5 draft or perhaps even a minor league free agent. He split the year between New Britain and Edmonton, while compiling a 9.8 K/9 and 3.0 K:BB, ratios that deserve notice from every team in baseball. Of course I expect he'll open next season at some team's AAA affiliate, but he should be the first reliever recalled. While his ceiling is probably middle relief, he should be a quality injury replacement as soon as he debuts.
Scott Randall, 26, RH Starter
Randall joined the Edmonton rotation after only 5 AA starts, and he continued displaying superb command, albeit without the strikeouts we'd like to see. While he could emerge as a 5th starter for one of the weaker teams in baseball, Randall's major league future probably lies in the bullpen. Anyone with a 14-0 record at the upper levels of the minors should be able to convince a GM that he deserves an extended shot as a AAA closer, and if his dominance improves to a respectable level, he should emerge as a solid middle reliever. His 2003 role is too uncertain for me to recommend him, but he's still rather young for someone with 8 years of minor league experience, and I don't expect he'll need to wait much longer before his major league debut.
Jose Rodriguez, 27, LH Reliever
Rodriguez missed the second half of the season due to inflammation in his forearm and elbow. He's expected to recover from the health problem by the spring, and he appears likely to compete for a bullpen job. Before his injury, he continued developing at AAA and now appears a viable candidate for the second lefty in the bullpen most teams desire. Minnesota doesn't really need him with Guardado and Romero already in the bullpen, so they should see if they can deal him for a low-level prospect.
Brad Thomas, 24, LH Starter
Unlike fellow Aussies Grant Balfour and Mike Nakamura, Thomas performed far below expectations in his first exposure to AAA. Minnesota rushed him to the majors last year before promoting Adam Johnson, but he recovered to post a 97:26 K:BB in 119 AA innings. I suspect moving from the extremes of Edmonton to the pitcher-friendly atmosphere in Rochester will benefit Thomas more than perhaps any other Twins' prospect, so I see no reason why he shouldn't regain his top prospect status by the end of 2003. When Minnesota looks to cut payroll after next season to accommodate the raises to their veterans, Thomas should be ready to replace Eric Milton in the rotation, joining Johan Santana to give the Twins two very promising young lefties. His poor 2002 season leaves Thomas as an obviously risky pick, but if he looks good in the AFL, you might want to consider a low pick on him given his good arm and upside.
Joe Mauer, 19, C-L
He fulfilled every expectation placed upon the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, and while the Twins missed three seasons of major league help by not drafting Mark Prior, Mauer already ranks as the best catching prospect in baseball. His 23 doubles look more representative of his immediate power upside than the few homers he managed, and the .302 BA is thoroughly supported by a 1.45 BB:K, .15 walk rate, and .90 contact rate. Mauer also only committed six errors in 94 games in the field, an excellent total considering his age and league. If he's somehow still available in your league, he merits a very high pick since you can either wait until he begins excelling against major league pitching in 2005 or ransom him to rebuilding teams for a package of talent to propel you to a championship.
J.D. Durbin, 20, RH Starter
Minnesota's second round pick in 2000, Durbin finally remained healthy all year and compiled both excellent stats and skills across the board. Unfortunately he probably slots near the bottom of A-ball pitchers to consider with a minor league pick. He earned Arizona high school player of the year honors back in 2000, and like other top high school pitchers, he racked-up a lot of pitches before the draft. So not only is Durbin at least two years away from the majors, he's an injury risk who might eventually move to the bullpen. Of course his fantastic 2002 season could be the beginning of an impressive minor league career, but unless you're in the deepest of leagues, you should probably revisit his prospects in a year.
Ken Holubec, 24, LH Starter
While his ratios look excellent as he improved to a 2.8 K:BB and 10.1 K/9 after posting a 2.0 K:BB and 8.7 K/9 at A Quad City in 2001, I have serious questions regarding his potential for success in the immediate future. He averaged less than five innings in each start, which suggests he suffers from stamina problems, and as a college pitcher drafted in 2000, he's also facing significantly younger competition. If Holubec continues dominating as a AA starter, he'll quickly rise up the prospect lists, but he looks like one of the riskier potential picks I've reviewed in the last week.
Brian Baron, 24, AA New Britain(EL) OF-L
Jim Abbott, 22, A Quad City(Mid) RH Swingman
Current organizational ranking by potentially helpful fantasy depth, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, and consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: St. Louis@San Francisco
CompUSA celebrated Columbus Day by offering more expensive items for $14.92, as well as offering flat screen monitors under a banner of "The World Really is Flat". Considering the number of completely obnoxious ads usually associated with middling federal holidays like Columbus Day, I'm pleased to see someone celebrate the event in an appropriate manner. While the only chore most people can avoid today is getting the mail, I suspect that a significant number of people will check their mailboxes anyway. If we get lucky and the Giants win tonight, enjoy the off days before the Series, allowing baseball fans to actually avoid television for a few days.
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